Book and Lyrics: Tom MacRae
Music: Dan Gillespie Sells
Director: Matt Ryan
Jamie New is 16. He lives on a council estate in Sheffield, and he knows what he wants in life. He has a dream. Jamie does not want to be a forklift truck driver, as his careers teacher and psychometric test suggest. He is going to be a drag queen, he is going to be a sensation. And he will attend the school prom in a dress.
After a Covid-related break, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is back, and it’s as joyous as ever – and now it has an updated script to reflect the uncertain times we live in, with references to masks and sanitiser. It also reflects and counters some of the wider societal issues that have come to the fore recently, presenting us with a triumph of diversity and inclusion over bullying and bigotry – and the audience loves the show for it, cheering and applauding every put-down.
Layton Williams reprises his West End role as Jamie, and his experience in the role shows – the desire to do what he wants and to just be himself despite pressure from others seems real, and his enthusiasm lifts the show from the start. It’s difficult being a 16-year-old – and being a 16-year-old who wants to be a drag queen even more so. Williams captures that uncertainty, the self-doubt, and layers it with a dose of determination to present us with the fully rounded character we see on stage.
Jamie is not without support and encouragement. His main support is his mother Margaret, with Amy Ellen Richardson giving a nicely-judged performance in the role. She understands and encourages Jamie to be himself, and to take control of his own life – and she gets some of the best songs in the show too, with a heart-string tugging rendition of He’s My Boy standing out against an otherwise fairly forgettable score. Alongside her is her friend Ray (Shobna Gulati), quietly supportive until her moment comes to let rip, which she does to the great satisfaction of the audience. One-time drag queen Hugo (Shane Richie) recognises something of himself in the younger man and encourages him to be what he wants to be while his best friend Pritti doesn’t always understand him but is happy to help him be whomever he wants – a wonderfully thoughtful performance from Sharan Phull, showing the empathy that one ‘outsider’ can have for another as she gently encourages Jamie to understand his desires.
This type of show has been around for so long that it’s not hard to see where it’s going – so of course, we have the ‘bad guys’. Lara Denning plays careers teacher Miss Hedge, whose desire to keep students grounded in their aspirations quickly becomes a way of stifling their ambitions, and school bully Dean (George Sampson) who is himself determined to put Jamie down. Will they succeed? Well, this is musical theatre, so the story arc concludes with a joyous inevitability, just as everyone knew it would from the moment the curtain rose.
The show is not without its flaws – the score is patchy, with many of the numbers loud and the lyrics unintelligible. Where it shines is in the ballads – He’s My Boy and If I met Myself Again for Margaret, and Pritti’s It Means Beautiful stand out in particular. Despite that, the sheer energy and joy of the show drive it forward to present a feel-good, crowd-pleasing evening, a triumph of love over hate – and that’s enough to leave the audience on their feet as the show ends.
Well worth catching for a happy, life-affirming evening of theatre.
Runs until 18 September 2021 and touring